Rather than spending your gift budget on "stuff," think about gifting an experience instead. Gift the people you love with an adventure or activity they'll enjoy. We've curated a list of experience gift ideas to help you find just the right idea for everyone on your list this year. To create a great experience for everyone, keep in mind that if you're shopping for a family, it's best to buy enough tickets for the whole crew. If you're getting a gift for someone who is single or in a relationship, give them two tickets so they can take a friend or their partner.
Fun Activities That Make Great Experience Gifts
Think about the personality of the person or people you're giving the experience gift to; there are plenty of ideas to fit different interests. Look for clues, like what they like to do in their spare time and the types of hobbies they enjoy, to help you decide on what activity might fit them best.
A sight-seeing tour can be a super-fun experience gift that won't break the bank. Give the gift of a staycation by sharing tickets to a sightseeing tour in the recipient's local area. Whether you give them a bus tour, train ride, walking tour, or any other kind of tour, you'll be gifting them a fun day or evening out while also letting them catch a glimpse of where they live in a way they don't usually get to see.
Many places with lakes and rivers have boat tour companies that offer dinner cruises. If there's something like this near where the person you're shopping for lives, they're sure to appreciate the gift of a dinner cruise experience.
If you're shopping for someone who loves to cook (or maybe needs to learn how), consider gifting them a series of cooking classes at a local culinary school, resort, or restaurant, or even via an online cooking school. They'll have a tasty time while picking up some new culinary skills.
Crafting classes also make a fun experience gift for kids, teens, and adults to enjoy on their own or participate in as a family. Check craft stores or hobby shops in their local area, as well as community event calendars, to see what kinds of fun classes might be available within a few months of the time you'll be purchasing a gift.
If you're shopping for someone who enjoys messy activities and good-natured competition, paintball just might be the perfect gift. Passes to a paintball venue are a great gift idea for adventurous teens, young adults, or active families with tweens or teens. Just think: your friends or family will have a great time getting blasted with paint, courtesy of you.
Nearby Attractions as Experience Gift Ideas
Surprise friends or family with a visit to a fantastic local attraction. Look to see what kinds of attractions are within an hour or so of where the person or family you're shopping for lives and purchase tickets for them to visit. They can have a great experience and make some memories without having to splurge on the tickets themselves!
If you're shopping for a family that consists of grown-ups and littles, spending a day (or several) together at the zoo might be an activity they'll enjoy. You can make that happen by gifting them tickets to the zoo. You can gift either one-time admission, or, if they're big animal lovers, season tickets they can enjoy multiple times throughout the year.
Aquarium tickets are also a great gift idea if you're shopping for a family. You could buy admission tickets or season passes, or look to see if an aquarium near where they live offers special events, such as kid-friendly sleepovers in the aquarium or opportunities for teens or grown-ups to SCUBA dive in the tanks.
Theme Park Admission or Season Passes
If the people you're shopping for live near a fun theme park they love to visit, consider gifting them tickets, or even a season pass that will allow them to visit as many times as they'd like for a full year. Check with the park to find out what options are available.
Theme Park Behind the Scenes Experience
Maybe the person you're shopping for already has a season pass to a local park or is planning a trip to one that's far away. In that case, consider gifting them a "behind the scenes" experience at the park. Your gift will make an upcoming visit extra special by allowing them to participate in an aspect of the park they don't usually get to experience.
Water Park Admission or Season Passes
If water slides are more up your friend's or family member's alley than roller coasters, gift tickets or a season pass to a local water park - or one that's at least within a reasonable driving distance. They'll be splashing to their heart's content without spending a dime.
Outdoorsy Ideas for Experience Gifts
Take an outdoors experience to new level for the nature lovers in your life! We love the ideas here - they'll let friends or family experience the outdoors in a new way or even re-experience a favorite adventure.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
An America the Beautiful Annual Pass is the perfect gift for outdoorsy types who love visiting different places. If you're not familiar with the pass, here's a rundown: it's a pass that offers 12 months of unlimited admission to all of the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands in the United States, all for just $80.
A weekend of glamping as an experience gift can be a great choice for people who love the great outdoors but don't have their own camping equipment, or who prefer to enjoy nature with the advantage of modern conveniences. Glamping campsites are pre-set up with all the amenities and camping gear they'll need, so they'll basically just need to show up and have a great time.
For a gift that goes to the next level (as in underground), give the gift of a cave tour. Review this list of showcaves to find nearby caverns then choose a tour that fits their age and physical ability level. Most showcaves offer choices ranging from family-friendly walking tours to wild cave tours for those that can handle something more physically demanding.
A zipline adventure can be an exhilarating experience that could be the right choice for the more fearless people on your list. This activity is ideal for adventurous adults as well as outdoorsy families with teenagers. Use this comprehensive list of zipline locations to find one near the person or family that you're shopping for.
Canoe or Kayak Outing
A day on the water in a canoe or kayak - or even camping overnight on a sandbar - is a great gift if the person, couple, or family you're shopping for lives near a river or lake. Purchase a gift certificate from an outfitter in their area to gift them a good time paddling or floating on a local waterway.
Heart-Pounding Experience Gift Ideas
Take your experience gift idea up a notch for someone on your list who's more of a thrill seeker. These ideas will get their adrenaline going and make an unforgettable gift!
If an ordinary canoe or kayak outing might not be exciting enough for the person you're shopping for, maybe gifting them the experience of whitewater rafting will fit. Know (or ask someone) about their skill and experience when purchasing this kind of adventure, or buy a gift card so they can decide if they should stick with relatively tame rapids or if they're ready to tackle a class IV or V adventure.
NASCAR Racing Experience
Shopping for someone who has a need for speed? The NASCAR Racing Experience will feed their need. This unique grown-ups-only experience provides driving enthusiasts an opportunity to drive an actual NASCAR vehicle on a real NASCAR speedway. Pricing varies based on location, length of drive time (which ranges from five minutes to 48 minutes), and selected options.
Adventures don't have to stay on the ground. For someone with a super-adventurous spirit and a desire to take to the skies, flying lessons are a great experience gift. The Airline Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) publishes a flight school directory, so their website is a good place to start your research. Regional airports and flying clubs often have discovery flights available to give as gifts.
If the thrill-seekers on your shopping list are more interested in jumping out of airplanes than learning how to fly them, gift them with a skydiving adventure. Look for a location that's convenient to the person you're shopping for via the United States Parachute Association (USPA) website, where you'll find a list of USPA-affiliated skydiving vendors and drop zones.
Hang Gliding Adventure
Hang gliding is another experience that might excite friends and family members who thrive on adrenaline rushes. If you want to give the gift of a hang gliding adventure, visit Hanggliding.org to find a flying site near where the recipient lives or has plans to travel.
Axe-throwing, anyone? It's like a trip to the spa, but for people whose idea of de-stressing involves blowing off some steam in a highly physical way. If that describes someone on your shopping list, give them a booking (or several!) at a local axe-throwing venue. You just might introduce them to their favorite new hobby.
Maybe the person you're shopping for is already a regular at their local axe-throwing venue - or needs something even more explosive; if so, think about buying them passes to a local rage room. They might really enjoy visiting a place where they get to de-stress by destroying stuff - without having to worry about getting in trouble for it.
Special Event Experience Gift Ideas
Tickets to events make great gifts; people might want to attend a concert or event but not always be willing or able to make the splurge. If you can zero in on a special event a friend or family wants to attend, buying the tickets for them can be a nice surprise.
For families (or young-at-heart grownups), tickets to a local circus performance might make a unique experience gift. Consider throwing in a bit extra to offset the cost of snacks or souvenirs.
Professional Sports Tickets
Is there a superfan on your shopping list? As long as they don't already have season tickets, find out when their favorite team is playing nearby and buy them a pair of tickets, or tickets for the whole family if they have kids and would all enjoy seeing a pro game.
If you are shopping for someone who is gaga for a particular band or musician that just so happens to be on tour, concert tickets make a welcome gift. If budget allows, consider splurging for a once-in-a-lifetime VIP experience that includes tickets in the very front and access to a meet-and-greet before or after the show.
Music Festival Tickets
From the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to Chicago's Lollapalooza, and similar events everywhere, music festivals are events to remember. Music lovers on your list might love to be surprised with with tickets to a local music festival - or one they're willing to travel to attend.
Comedy Club Tickets
If laughter is the best medicine, then it only makes sense that comedy show tickets make a fabulous gift. If there's a comedy club the person or couple you're shopping for likes to visit, buy tickets for them to go to an upcoming show or get them a gift certificate to the club that they can use to select a show.
Event experiences don't have to carry a high price tag. Movie tickets also make a great experience gift idea. Whether you're shopping for individuals, couples, or families, consider gifting them a night at the movies. You could purchase from a particular theater chain or buy from Fandango so they can go to any theater they want.
Cultural Outing Experience Gift Ideas
The gift of culture is priceless, so cultural events and activities also make great experience gifts. There are lots of options to consider for your friends and relatives that enjoy visiting places like museums, theaters, and more.
From art museums to history museums, and many other types of venues, there are museums that speak to people with all kinds of interests. Find out what museums are located near where the people you're shopping for live (or plan to travel to) and gift them with tickets to visit the one(s) you think they'll love.
Going to plays is a great way to expand your horizons through cultural entertainment. Season tickets to a local community theater make a great gift, as do tickets to touring broadway plays if the person you are shopping for lives near a venue. Visit Broadway.org for a list of shows that are touring and where they will be going.
Plays aren't the only way to see great stories told on the stage. Going to the ballet is another wonderful experience. If the person you're shopping for lives in an area that has its own ballet company, consider buying them tickets to a performance or even season passes.
If the person or people you're shopping for are more into music than plays or ballet dancing, they might prefer receiving tickets to a symphony performance. If they're big fans and you have the budget, season tickets would be even better.
If you're shopping for someone who has a deep appreciation for opera, tickets to operatic performances make a memorable experience gift. Like other performances, you could give them tickets to a particular show or season passes that will allow them to go all year.
Pampering Experience Gift Ideas
If your gift list includes busy people who don't often take time for self-care or pampering, consider gifting them an experience that's designed to help them de-stress.
Shower the person on your list who really deserves a day of pampering with a relaxation package at a local day spa. They'll probably appreciate being able to enjoy an ultimate me-day experience without feeling the slightest bit guilty about it.
If a full spa day is out of your budget, try booking a relaxing massage for the people on your shopping list who don't always take time for themselves. A couple's massage session can be a good choice if you're looking for a couple's gift, too.
If you're shopping for someone who never takes the time to focus on themselves, consider gifting them with a professional makeover that includes the works. Schedule them for VIP treatment at a local salon, including hair, nails, and makeup.
Professional Photography Session
Booking a session with a professional photographer in their local area is a great gift idea for families to get family photos together. It can also be a good gift idea for couples or individuals who want may want or need professional photos. This is a fun gift for just about anyone, individuals and families alike.
Rather than picking out clothes that the person you're shopping for might not like, schedule them for a session with a personal shopper at one of their favorite stores. You can schedule it with a department store such as Nordstrom or through an online styling subscription service like Stitch Fix.
Travel Experience Gift Ideas
Travel just may be the ultimate experience, but scheduling considerations can make it tough to surprise people with a prepaid trip. However, travel gift cards make it easy to give travel experiences that people can schedule themselves.
Passenger Train Tickets
Buying a gift for someone who lives near an Amtrak station and loves to travel? Buy them an Amtrak gift card that they can use to book a passenger train trip to any destination they want. You can purchase Amtrak gift cards from Amazon and other retailers in denominations ranging from $25 to $500.
If the person you're shopping for prefers air travel, airfare makes a great gift. If you know where and when they want to travel, you could buy them an airline ticket. Otherwise, an airline gift card is a great choice. Most airlines offer gift cards that can be used to purchase airline tickets, including Delta and American Airlines.
If the lucky person you're getting a gift for enjoys staying at Airbnbs, purchase an Airbnb gift card that they can use to nook a staycation weekend or pay for part of their next vacation. Airbnb gift cards come standard in $100 increments from $100 to $500, or you can choose to purchase a gift card for a custom amount.
Hotel gift cards are a great idea for people that prefer traditional accommodations. Most major hotel chains offer gift cards, including Marriott and Hilton. If you're not sure what brand they prefer or what hotels are in the areas they want to visit, you could buy a Hotels.com gift card instead.
A cruise booking makes a wonderful experience gift. You can book a specific cruise for someone as a gift, which would be a great option if the family is scheduling a multigenerational cruise later in the year. Alternatively, you could give them a gift card to one of the major cruise lines that they can apply to schedule any cruise they want to take.
Experience Gifts Are Unforgettable
Experience gifts are not only thoughtful, they're often appreciated more than tangible items that people don't need or even want. Whether you are planning the perfect gift far in advance or are searching for a last-minute gift idea, giving the people you love a special experience is a wonderful way to provide them with an unforgettable memory.